When I first came to the Okanagan in the spring of 2007 to scout out a job in the wine business, I was surprised to learn that there was one winery with a big French connection. Osoyoos LaRose. It’s the result of a joint venture between Vincor (the largest wine producer in Canada) and a Bordeaux based wine group that owns amongst many other properties, the second-growth Chateau Gruaud Larose. The goal from the outset of the venture in 1998 was to create the best possible red from the special terroir and climatic conditions of the Okanagan using classic Bordeaux methods.
Along with imported vine cuttings and equipment, the wine maker chosen to take Osoyoos Larose to the lofty heights of the world’s best wines is a Bordeaux trained enologist and viticulturalist named Pascal Madevon. This diminutive Frenchman didn’t take long to warm to the amazing potential the Okanagan possesses for growing ripe, healthy wine grapes. Shortly after arriving in 2001 he brought over his family from France and by 2009 the commitment became complete when Pascal and his family became Canadian citizens.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Pascal recently for the wine maker segment of our documentary film project on the wines of the Okanagan. He comes across right away as someone who knows what he wants but understands that the road to renown for Osoyoos Larose will be long and difficult. But he seems convinced that the recognition and the rewards will come. It’s just a matter of time. I can’t make my judgment on the wines since I’ve only tasted the 2006 but from visiting the vineyards high above the town of Osoyoos and seeing the attention to detail in the winery, I think they’re headed down the right path. The day of our visit, Pascal just learned that he going to be invited to Paris to showcase Osoyoos Larose by the producers of Tout le Monde en Parle, a well-known Quebec variety show. He was beaming from ear to ear.
So, I figure, if the Okanagan can take the Frenchman out of France, what’s really going on here? The answer — and I’ve heard it repeated over and over — is that the valley is incredibly blessed when it comes to growing grapes. If you know anything about wine, you know that great wine can’t be made without great grapes. Add in the fact that the valley has hotter average summer temperatures and more sunshine than the Napa Valley, then I can start to see why there is so much excitement. From the cool climate vineyards around Kelowna in the northern part of the valley to the hot, arid climate of Osoyoos, 150 km to the south, almost all wines grapes and styles can be grown. There’s abundant water for irrigation and there are almost no diseases.
No wonder the region has attracted great wine makers like Pascal, Tom DiBello (California), Jeff Martin (Australia), and John Simes (New Zealand). They are the proof that this valley has a true renaissance happening. All were talented, established wine makers at home but gave up their lucrative careers to create a new wine industry in the interior of British Columbia. They have inspired, also, a new breed of local wine makers like Michael Bartier at Road 13, Grant Stanley at Quails’ Gate and Stephanie Leinnemann at Calona Wines to raise the bar higher and higher. It’s exciting to watch it all unfold and see the wines get better every year.